Sunday, December 18, 2005

X-Mas List Item #3: Keychain PC

This won't take up much room in your sleigh, Quantum Future Santa. But I'm sending you a bit farther out for this one.

Computers are getting smaller. Nothing new about that. But we've gotten to the point where a capable computer can actually be much smaller than the screen or the keyboard we use to interact with it.

This raises tough questions for designers of portable devices, who can, and sometimes do, make cell phones and PDAs that are too tiny for average fingers.

Fortunately, those who manufacture desktop machines can simply have fun with the shrinkage. Take the Mac Mini, for example. It's not portable in the sense that a laptop is portable, because it has no display or keyboard. But, as a result of these omissions, it is actually much smaller than most laptops. It's useless on an airplane, but great in a carry-on bag.

Mobile computing now has two flavors; devices that you use on the way to Grandma's house, and devices that you bring to grandma's house.

If you're the one driving, like I usually am, the first kind of portability doesn't do you much good anyway. So I'm looking at the second. Fast forward five or seven years and watch as the Mac Mini or its inspired rivals shrink even farther. Watch as a robust PC comes to fit on a keychain.

The keychain PC will be a beatiful thing. Its only interface will be a wireless communications chip with ethernet and bluetooth capabilities. The only blemish on its sleek surface will be a recharging oriface. Being mostly battery, it will also be a cold dense lump in your pocket when you're not using it, and a hot dense lump when you are. You can't win 'em all. (I won't ask you for mini fuel cells this year, Santa. You're busy enough already.)

What kind of person will use this? The kind of person who travels between two or more locations where displays and input devices can be borrowed. The kind of person who doesn't trust or understand the local network well enough to want to try and access his computer remotely over the internet.

I know, Santa! You're saying, “Ho, Ho, Ho. This is silly. What kinds of places have keyboards and screens lying around for people with keychain PCs to link into?”

Few, if any right now. But I'm looking ahead.

When the time comes, I'll use my keychain PC on any modern television – which is to say, any High Definition set. Unlike classical color sets of yore, HD displays have enough pixels to show text without wooly, mammoth fonts.

Many sets by this time will have builtin-wireless receiving features. Those that don't will probably be connected to something that does.

The same will be especially true for keyboards and mice. I'll just grab what I need from a desk that's not using it at the moment.

But I don't consider keyboards and mice to be the optimal solution to my keychain drive, which is why you'll need to get me the next item on my list. (Stay tuned!)

It goes without saying that I'll need operating systems and devices to become a little smarter. For example, it would be nice – and kind of kinky – if I could slave a device to my keychain simply by touching them together in a special place.

I also understand, Santa, that my keychain PC may never become more than a geeky novelty, because I know as well as you do that remote computing is the wave of the future. Within a couple years, Microsoft and Google will be locked in an epic struggle to win users over to web-based office suites. Before long, the browser will be the only piece of software most machines will need to run.

And when that happens, we may just see browsing capability built in to anything and everything that uses a screen. Like the digital clocks of an earlier era, PC functionality is destined to become a cheap, ubiquitous commodity.

Which is why it should go on my keychain. At least it won't have a blinking “twelve-o-clock.com”

2 Comments:

Anonymous michael vassar said...

Why should it have no input and output. How about a sheet of smart paper for output and a smart pen for input. Then it's still keychain sized and you can use it too. Give it sound too via blue-tooth through your cell phone/MP3 player.

1:08 PM  
Blogger Mitch Howe said...

Good ideas!

My idea with the keychain was to make it as small as possible, but able to borrow anything and everything around it wirelessly. You'll have All your programs and data, all the time, in the best way you can find.

If you thought the iPod accessory business was big, wait until you see the keychain PC accessory biz.

2:09 PM  

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